Everything’s Funny: Denis Johnson

AN army brat born in Munich and raised on US bases in the Philippines, Japan, and the outskirts of Washington D.C., Denis Johnson had seen the world before he published a word. He started pretty early though, with his first poetry collection at the age of 19, and has since written stage plays, crime thrillers, foreign correspondence, dirty-realist short stories and post-apocalyptic fictions, a monumental fugue of a Vietnam War novel, Tree Of Smoke, and a luminous Old West novella, Train Dreams.

The 65-Year-Old Teenager: Haruki Murakami

HARUKI Murakami has nothing to say. The author admits this himself, and often claims to be a bit baffled by his ongoing compulsion to write, given that he has no particular points to make, nor even any stories to tell. He gets up at four every morning, sits down to his desk, and starts composing… Read more »

Mister Lubber Man: Geoff Dyer In The Navy

A COUPLE of years ago I interviewed the novelist and essayist Geoff Dyer for this newspaper at his home in London. We talked mostly about his then-new book Zona, a typically chatty (and characteristically unclassifiable) treatise on the Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker. Dyer also told me that he had just spent two weeks as a writer-in-residence aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. “And how was that?” I asked, perhaps hoping for some caustic drawing-room witticism. “Fantastic,” he said. “I love the American military.”

A Room Of One Zone: Geoff Dyer

THERE is a place called the Zone, which looks more or less like the world we know, but the colours are fuller and brighter, and the natural laws are not quite so constant. Within the landscape of the Zone, there is a Room, where a person’s deepest desires are supposedly fulfilled. This is the premise of Stalker, a monumentally slow and meditative film made in 1979 by Andrei Tarkovsky. Relatively few people have seen it. “Not as many as have seen Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels,” admits Geoff Dyer. “But among those who have, you often hear that this film has been a big thing in their lives.”

The Presidential Brain

IN 2007, the year before he was elected president, Barack Obama told a biographer that his favourite writer was E.L. Doctorow. To my mind, Obama’s political opponents did not make as much of this as they could have. Taken together, Doctorow’s body of work might easily be painted as a fictional analogue to Howard Zinn’s People’s History Of The United States – a liberal-secular rejection of America’s sustaining narrative, a chronicle of the betrayal or disfigurement of the nation’s original promise.

Last Of The Great White American Males

JAMES Salter will turn 88 next month. Nobody could blame the guy for being old-fashioned, although the publication of his new novel All That Is – his first in over 30 years, and presumably his last – has occasioned a certain amount of eye-rolling, to set against the swell of widespread acknowledgement that this great writer’s moment may finally have come. With Updike and Mailer now dead, and Philip Roth recently retired, the lesser-known Salter is the only one of his generation left to fly the flag for post-war American virility.

A Polite “No” To The Aliens: David Mitchell

IN the woods west of Amsterdam, between the dunes of the North Sea shoreline and the vast floral-industrial greenhouses where world-famous hypercolour tulips are grown, there is a small working village of intellectuals. Current residents include experts on forgotten medieval cities, a team of linguists attempting to reconstruct the earliest human language, a German philosopher, a former adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin and the novelist David Mitchell, who recently arrived to begin research for a new book.

Words And Action: The legacy of Rodolfo Walsh

THE first I ever heard of Rodolfo Walsh was when I read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine in 2007. By that time, Walsh had been dead for 30 years, but Klein cited him as a posthumous source for her treatise on “disaster capitalism”, and introduced him in the most dynamic terms: “A gregarious Renaissance man, a writer of crime fiction and award-winning short stories … a super sleuth able to crack military codes and spy on the spies.”

The Brilliant Dotage Of E.L. Doctorow

WITH Bellow, Vonnegut, Mailer, and Updike all recently departed, Philip Roth is now supposed to be the last living giant of American literature. Roth’s late productivity has become an ongoing wonder of the publishing world, his sustained priapic raging a rebuke to every author and pensioner who has ever gone quietly into decline. At 76, he continues to cast the indignities of old age into one livid fiction after another, as if writing could dispel them, although some have noted that each of these senescent novels has been slighter and weaker than the one before.

The Diviner: Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero

IT has taken Michael Ondaatje seven years to write his new novel Divisadero. It took him eight to write his last one, Anil’s Ghost, having been made famous by the one before that, The English Patient, which won the Booker prize and then several Oscars when Anthony Minghella adapted it into an auspicious motion picture. The long delays between novels may partly be caused by Ondaatje finding other things to write and do in the meantime.